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'How'd I do that?' - Australia's unexpected triumph

Mike Gatting's fall to the reverse sweep was the break Australia needed to claw back into the 1987 World Cup Final Getty Images

Tom Moody can remember the squelching sound his boots made in the heat of Chennai as Australia's 1987 World Cup squad prepared for a tournament no one expected them to win.

"We wore the Puma Sheffield Shield shoes with holes at the top of the foot, and I remember water squirting out of those holes, as that was how much the sweat had come through your shoes and socks."

If this doesn't exactly sound pleasant, it was music to the ears of the captain Allan Border and the coach Bob Simpson, who took a young and somewhat impressionable group to India and Pakistan for the Cup after more than three years of desperately barren times for Australian cricket. Only the previous summer they had allowed Mike Gatting's Englishmen the courtesy of an Ashes victory, plus wins in the World Series Cup and the one-off Perth Challenge.

Those results helped in allowing the selectors to choose a largely unproven squad to fly to India, where they worked hard in the shadow of the Chidambaram Stadium. "The nets are out at the back and I remember being part of a human file of carriers ferrying water out to the nets," Moody says, "Because as soon as we were drinking them, it was just disappearing out of our pores.

"That was also my first taste of the discipline and hard work Bob Simpson put into the Australian team. There were no prisoners. He didn't miss anyone with regards to practice and making sure it was done at a very high level. He had an enormous influence in where Australian cricket is now. Because we were so far ahead of our opponents in terms of how we prepared, how hard we worked, and he built a very strong foundation."

Less was expected of Border's team, perhaps, than even the touring party Steven Smith is about to take to India. But those hard early days under the Chennai sun were to be rewarded with a narrow opening victory over the hosts, the match decided by only one run. That result began a productive pattern for the Australians - batting first, putting top-order runs on the board and then defending the target with a combination of skill, desperation and innovation.

"That was the first sighting of a Steve Waugh back-of-the-hand slower ball - a significant influence in that match but also through the entire tournament," Moody says. "Australia had suddenly developed a fifth bowler who had some real skill from a defensive point of view in one-day cricket. We could rely on him in the last ten overs of an innings, which was pretty rare.

"We had a strike bowler in Craig McDermott, then two very clever bowlers in [Simon] O'Donnell and Waugh, and when you're defending a total with not only the change of pace but also the mystery, which it was back then, of a back-of-the-hand slower ball that they both had, you become a powerful defensive side, because that ball is not just a run-stopper but a wicket-taker. It's pretty common now but then it was one of the main reasons we were defensively good."

Much of Australia's planning had the advantage of a greater sample size of matches from which to make strategic decisions. In the wake of World Series Cricket, Border's men played more than twice the annual number of ODIs most other sides did, and without doubt this allowed Border, in particular, to become one of the format's very finest captains - helped by his own agile fielding and deadly left arm from midwicket.

"The team celebration after that India win was the beginning of a group of players who didn't really know each other that well, but by the end of the night it was a group who effectively grew very close," Moody says. "It was nearly like we'd won the World Cup that moment, given we'd beat the favourites in what was seen as an unwinnable game. The combination of that friendship and the hard work Allan Border and Bob Simpson put into place just got stronger and stronger for a team considered horrible, rank outsiders."

There was another tight contest against New Zealand in the group stage, and a couple of wrestles with a Zimbabwe side that held its own - Border was the lone survivor from the Australian team that had infamously lost to a side featuring Duncan Fletcher, among others, in the 1983 edition.

In addition to McDermott, O'Donnell and Waugh, the batting core of Geoff Marsh, David Boon and Dean Jones operated with a high degree of effectiveness, placing a premium on running between the wickets. Marsh twice held the innings for spinal centuries. Boon was cast as the dasher at the other end, taking advantage of the hardness of the new ball to commonly help the score reach a then outlandish 50 from ten overs.

Australia's formula was briefly halted by India during the return fixture, in Delhi, where Border lost the toss and his side's chase was undone by spin. That meant Australia would need to trek to Lahore for a semi-final against Pakistan. It seemed the logical conclusion to a doughty campaign.

"I remember that being a bit of a body blow. We had this enormous confidence in our campaign, and then suddenly it was like we got derailed by being told, 'By the way, you're playing a semi-final in Lahore out of India', so I think everyone felt it may have just taken the momentum away," Moody says. "But what salvaged it was, we batted first and batted well. The wicket was like an ice-skating rink - that hard and flat and shiny.

"Mike Veletta got 48 in that semi-final, he came into the side in the middle order. We all knew him as an opening bat, but he adapted brilliantly well and along with Steve Waugh enabled us to get that competitive platform. If you look back on that total, the highest score was 65, so we were missing someone getting a hundred, but Veletta covered for that with Steve Waugh."

While Imran Khan clean-bowled three Australians in a fiery second spell, Waugh hammered 18 from the final over of the innings, delivered by Saleem Jaffar. As McDermott went to work with 5 for 44, those runs off Waugh's bat turned out to be precisely the winning margin. A century of sweeps by Graham Gooch in Mumbai, meanwhile, had eliminated India, and the two old Ashes rivals would meet again in the final at a heaving Eden Gardens.

Once more, Boon helped the Australians get off to a swift start, but after he and others became bogged down it was Border and Veletta who ensured a sizeable chase for England. "They say at the time it could fit about 100,000... the atmosphere was outrageous," Moody recalls. "Thankfully it wasn't against India, because that would have been bedlam."

O'Donnell struck a telling early blow by winning an lbw verdict against Gooch, but Gatting and Bill Athey seemed well in control of the chase until Border brought himself on. Writing for the Independent, Martin Johnson captured what happened next:

"The reverse sweep itself, especially the way Gatting plays it, is a perfectly legitimate one, whatever the views of Peter May. However, to attempt it to Border's first ball was more than a little startling. Thanks to a thickish edge (and in the opinion of some observers, a thickish head as well) the ball plopped into the wicketkeeper's gloves, and the England chairman - watching from the VIP box - very probably laid an egg."

For a watching Moody, who had torn an intercostal muscle bowling to Veletta in the nets before the semi-final, this was the turning point of a match that helped turn Australian cricket. "They were cruising in their chase, and it wasn't until the Gatting reverse sweep off Border that the game turned on its head," he says. "Bill Athey went from negotiating a comfortable chase to having a very difficult situation where he was losing wickets at the other end.

"I tore an intercostal in the nets bowling to Veletta before the semi-final. In this day and age I probably would have been sent home because it was about a week to go in the tournament, but I was fortunate to be able to stay. I was walking laps with Errol Alcott, because I couldn't help with bowling or hitting catches.

"We did a lap of honour at the end and it was amazing. With the adrenaline of winning, you suddenly forget you've got an intercostal tear, because Craig McDermott and I had AB on our shoulders. I look back at that photo and think, 'How'd I do that?'"

As they are presented to the crowd at the SCG on Sunday afternoon, the rest of the team of '87 have good reason to think back 30 years and ponder the same.